Urban/rural comparison | 2017

Urban and rural areas have fundamentally different characteristics with regard to density of road networks, land use, and travel patterns. Consequently, the characteristics of fatal motor vehicle crashes differ between rural and urban areas. For example, pedestrian and bicyclist deaths and deaths at intersections are more prevalent in urban areas, whereas a larger proportion of passenger vehicle and large truck occupant deaths and deaths on high-speed roads occur in rural areas. Although 19 percent of people in the U.S. live in rural areas U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. 2010 Census urban and rural classification and urban area criteria. Available at: http://www.census.gov/geo/reference/ua/urban-rural-2010.html. Accessed October 26, 2017. and 30 percent of the vehicle miles traveled occur in rural areas, Federal Highway Administration. 2017. Highway statistics, 2016. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation. almost half of crash deaths occur there.  

The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). In FARS, rural and urban boundaries are determined by state highway departments and approved by the Federal Highway Administration. Reliable information on rural and urban areas has been available in FARS since 1977.

Posted December 2018.

Trends

A total of 37,133 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2017. Since 2000, there has been a general downward trend in the proportion of crash deaths in rural areas, with the proportion declining from 61 percent in 2000 to 47 percent in 2017.

Motor vehicle crash deaths by land use, 1977-2017
Urban RuralTotal*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
1977 19,296 40 28,463 60 47,878 100
1978 19,863 40 30,018 60 50,331 100
1979 21,507 42 29,135 58 51,093 100
1980 21,560 43 29,114 57 51,091 100
1981 20,782 43 27,692 57 49,301 100
1982 18,678 43 25,005 57 43,945 100
1983 18,027 42 24,486 58 42,589 100
1984 18,590 42 25,636 58 44,257 100
1985 18,613 42 25,185 58 43,825 100
1986 19,581 43 26,484 57 46,087 100
1987 19,217 41 27,131 59 46,390 100
1988 19,253 41 27,793 59 47,087 100
1989 19,160 42 26,392 58 45,582 100
1990 18,807 42 25,761 58 44,599 100
1991 17,126 41 24,328 59 41,508 100
1992 16,223 42 22,821 58 39,250 100
1993 16,429 41 23,459 59 40,150 100
1994 16,811 41 23,841 59 40,716 100
1995 17,163 41 24,449 59 41,817 100
1996 17,368 41 24,561 59 42,065 100
1997 16,829 40 25,135 60 42,013 100
1998 16,219 39 25,185 61 41,501 100
1999 16,059 39 25,547 61 41,717 100
2000 16,116 39 24,835 61 41,945 100
2001 16,990 40 25,148 60 42,196 100
2002 17,013 40 25,896 60 43,005 100
2003 17,783 42 24,957 58 42,884 100
2004 17,581 41 25,179 59 42,836 100
2005 18,627 43 24,587 57 43,510 100
2006 18,791 44 23,646 56 42,708 100
2007 17,908 44 23,254 56 41,259 100
2008 16,218 44 20,987 56 37,423 100
2009 14,501 43 19,323 57 33,883 100
2010 14,659 45 18,089 55 32,999 100
2011 14,575 45 17,769 55 32,479 100
2012 15,371 46 18,367 54 33,782 100
2013 15,119 46 17,740 54 32,894 100
2014 15,917 49 16,791 51 32,744 100
2015 16,830 49 17,572 51 35,485 100
2016 19,357 51 18,321 49 37,806 100
2017 19,038 53 17,216 47 37,133 100

In 2016, the rate of crash deaths per 100 million miles traveled was 2.2 times higher in rural areas than in urban areas (1.93 in rural areas compared with 0.87 in urban areas). From 1977 to 2016, the rate decreased by 56 percent in rural areas (from 4.35 to 1.93) and 63 percent in urban areas (from 2.35 to 0.87). Federal Highway Administration. 2017. Highway statistics, 2016. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation.

Motor vehicle crash deaths per 100 million miles traveled by land use, 1977-2016
Rural Urban Total*
DeathsMiles traveled (millions)RateDeathsMiles traveled (millions)RateDeathsMiles traveled (millions)Rate
1977 28,463 654,596 4.35 19,296 821,971 2.35 47,878 1,476,567 3.24
1978 30,018 689,953 4.35 19,863 858,260 2.31 50,331 1,548,213 3.25
1979 29,135 670,079 4.35 21,507 859,054 2.50 51,093 1,529,133 3.34
1980 29,114 672,030 4.33 21,560 855,265 2.52 51,091 1,527,295 3.35
1981 27,692 688,308 4.02 20,782 867,000 2.40 49,301 1,555,308 3.17
1982 25,005 689,226 3.63 18,678 905,784 2.06 43,945 1,595,010 2.76
1983 24,486 700,517 3.50 18,027 952,271 1.89 42,589 1,652,788 2.58
1984 25,636 718,132 3.57 18,590 1,002,137 1.86 44,257 1,720,269 2.57
1985 25,185 730,728 3.45 18,613 1,044,098 1.78 43,825 1,774,826 2.47
1986 26,484 747,780 3.54 19,581 1,087,092 1.80 46,087 1,834,872 2.51
1987 27,131 780,450 3.48 19,217 1,140,754 1.68 46,390 1,921,204 2.41
1988 27,793 817,534 3.40 19,253 1,208,428 1.59 47,087 2,025,962 2.32
1989 26,392 847,225 3.12 19,160 1,249,262 1.53 45,582 2,096,487 2.17
1990 25,761 868,878 2.96 18,807 1,275,484 1.47 44,599 2,144,362 2.08
1991 24,328 883,553 2.75 17,126 1,288,497 1.33 41,508 2,172,050 1.91
1992 22,821 884,097 2.58 16,223 1,363,054 1.19 39,250 2,247,151 1.75
1993 23,459 886,706 2.65 16,429 1,409,672 1.17 40,150 2,296,378 1.75
1994 23,841 908,341 2.62 16,811 1,449,247 1.16 40,716 2,357,588 1.73
1995 24,449 933,285 2.62 17,163 1,489,490 1.15 41,817 2,422,775 1.73
1996 24,561 960,194 2.56 17,368 1,523,886 1.14 42,065 2,484,080 1.69
1997 25,135 999,920 2.51 16,829 1,560,452 1.08 42,013 2,560,372 1.64
1998 25,185 1,033,310 2.44 16,219 1,592,057 1.02 41,501 2,625,367 1.58
1999 25,547 1,062,623 2.40 16,059 1,627,618 0.99 41,717 2,690,241 1.55
2000 24,835 1,083,152 2.29 16,116 1,663,773 0.97 41,945 2,746,925 1.53
2001 25,148 1,110,697 2.26 16,990 1,686,642 1.01 42,196 2,797,339 1.51
2002 25,896 1,128,160 2.30 17,013 1,727,596 0.98 43,005 2,855,756 1.51
2003 24,957 1,085,385 2.30 17,783 1,805,508 0.98 42,884 2,890,893 1.48
2004 25,179 1,070,248 2.35 17,581 1,892,265 0.93 42,836 2,962,513 1.45
2005 24,587 1,037,937 2.37 18,627 1,951,870 0.95 43,510 2,989,807 1.46
2006 23,646 1,037,069 2.28 18,791 1,977,047 0.95 42,708 3,014,116 1.42
2007 23,254 1,035,303 2.25 17,908 1,994,519 0.90 41,259 3,029,822 1.36
2008 20,987 990,418 2.12 16,218 1,983,091 0.82 37,423 2,973,509 1.26
2009 19,323 982,180 1.97 14,501 1,974,583 0.73 33,883 2,956,763 1.15
2010 18,089 984,065 1.84 14,659 1,983,200 0.74 32,999 2,967,265 1.11
2011 17,769 974,038 1.82 14,575 1,972,094 0.74 32,479 2,946,132 1.10
2012 18,367 977,078 1.88 15,371 1,992,355 0.77 33,782 2,969,433 1.14
2013 17,740 941,912 1.88 15,119 2,046,369 0.74 32,894 2,988,281 1.10
2014 16,791 920,928 1.82 15,917 2,104,728 0.76 32,744 3,025,656 1.08
2015 17,572 928,905 1.89 16,830 2,166,468 0.78 35,485 3,095,373 1.15
2016 18,321 951,200 1.93 19,357 2,215,000 0.87 37,806 3,166,200 1.19

Vehicle types

In 2017, 73 percent of large truck occupant deaths, 67 percent of pickup occupant deaths, and 57 percent of SUV occupant deaths occurred in rural areas, whereas more than 70 percent of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths occurred in urban areas.  Motorcyclists were more likely to die in urban than in rural areas. 

Motor vehicle crash deaths by vehicle type and land use, 2017
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
Cars and minivans 6,767 49 6,727 49 13,775 100
Pickups 2,965 67 1,367 31 4,407 100
SUVs 2,973 57 2,114 41 5,174 100
Large trucks 501 73 173 25 683 100
Motorcycles 1,986 38 3,025 58 5,172 100
Pedestrians 1,141 19 4,642 78 5,977 100
Bicyclists 187 24 554 71 777 100
Total* 17,216 46 19,038 51 37,133 100

Crash types

In 2017, single-vehicle crashes accounted for similar proportions of the crash deaths occurring in rural (55 percent) and in urban areas (53 percent).

Motor vehicle crash deaths by crash type and land use, 2017
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
Single-vehicle crashes 9,384 55 10,099 53 19,969 54
Multiple-vehicle crashes 7,832 45 8,939 47 17,164 46
Total 17,216 100 19,038 100 37,133 100

Where crashes occur

In 2017, crash deaths in rural areas were less likely to occur on interstates and other arterial roads than crash deaths in urban areas (41 percent compared with 77 percent) and more likely to occur on collector roads (39 percent compared with 9 percent) and local roads (20 percent compared with 14 percent).

Motor vehicle crash deaths by road functional class and land use, 2017
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
Arterial 7,028 41 14,652 77 21,680 58
Collector 6,777 39 1,636 9 8,413 23
Local 3,395 20 2,732 14 6,127 17
Total* 17,216 100 19,038 100 37,133 100

In 2017, 16 percent of crash deaths in rural areas occurred at intersections, compared with 32 percent in urban areas.

Motor vehicle crash deaths by junction type and land use, 2017
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
Intersection 2,692 16 6,119 32 9,123 25
Non-Intersection 14,524 84 12,919 68 28,010 75
Total* 17,216 100 19,038 100 37,133 100

In 2017, 71 percent of crash deaths in rural areas occurred on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher. By comparison, 29 percent of crash deaths in urban areas occurred on these roads.

Motor vehicle crash deaths by speed limit and land use, 2017
Rural Urban Total*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
≤35 mph 1,483 9 5,838 31 7,583 20
40-50 mph 3,139 18 6,690 35 10,224 28
55+ mph 12,156 71 5,616 29 17,904 48
Total* 17,216 100 19,038 100 37,133 100

Speeding

There has been a general downward trend in the proportion of crash deaths involving speeding  as a contributing factor in both rural and urban areas since 2008, with the proportion declining from 33 percent in 2008 to 27 percent in 2017 in rural areas, and from 30 percent in 2008 to 26 percent in 2017 in urban areas. Speeding is defined to include crashes in which the driver was issued a traffic citation for speeding or in which driver-related factors included driving too fast for conditions, racing, or exceeding the posted speed limit.

Motor vehicle crash deaths involving speeding as a contributing factor by land use, 2008-2017
Rural Urban
Speeding-related Not speeding-relatedTotal Speeding-related Not speeding-relatedTotal
Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%
2008 6,862 33 14,125 67 20,987 100 4,846 30 11,372 70 16,218 100
2009 6,209 32 13,114 68 19,323 100 4,440 31 10,061 69 14,501 100
2010 5,832 32 12,257 68 18,089 100 4,585 31 10,074 69 14,659 100
2011 5,576 31 12,193 69 17,769 100 4,382 30 10,193 70 14,575 100
2012 5,756 31 12,611 69 18,367 100 4,559 30 10,812 70 15,371 100
2013 5,376 30 12,364 70 17,740 100 4,311 29 10,808 71 15,119 100
2014 4,905 29 11,886 71 16,791 100 4,367 27 11,550 73 15,917 100
2015 4,826 27 12,746 73 17,572 100 4,504 27 12,326 73 16,830 100
2016 5,116 28 13,205 72 18,321 100 5,150 27 14,207 73 19,357 100
2017 4,660 27 12,556 73 17,216 100 4,952 26 14,086 74 19,038 100

In 2017, on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher, speeding was a factor in similar proportions of crash deaths in rural (24 percent) and urban areas (25 percent). On roads with lower speed limits, speeding was more likely to be a factor in rural crash deaths.

Motor vehicle crash deaths involving speeding as a contributing factor by speed limit and land use, 2017
Rural Urban
Speeding-related Not speeding-relatedTotal Speeding-related Not speeding-relatedTotal
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
≤35 mph 595 40 888 60 1,483 100 1,731 30 4,107 70 5,838 100
40-50 mph 1,062 34 2,077 66 3,139 100 1,618 24 5,072 76 6,690 100
55+ mph 2,893 24 9,263 76 12,156 100 1,398 25 4,218 75 5,616 100
Total* 4,660 27 12,556 73 17,216 100 4,952 26 14,086 74 19,038 100

Alcohol

From 1982 to 1994, the percentage of fatally injured drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined steadily from 49 percent in both rural and urban areas to 34 percent in rural areas and to 32 percent in urban areas. This percentage has declined more gradually since 1994 and was 27 percent in rural areas and 29 percent in urban areas in 2017.

In urban areas, the percentage of fatally injured pedestrians ages 16 and older with BACs at or above 0.08 percent has ranged from 34 to 40 percent since 1982. By comparison, in rural areas the percentage declined from 53 percent in 1982 to 33 percent in 2017, a reduction of 38 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured people with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by land use, 1982-2017
Rural Urban
Drivers Pedestrians (age ≥16) Drivers Pedestrians (age ≥16)
DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08
NumberNumber%NumberNumber%NumberNumber%NumberNumber%
1982 15,155 7,486 49 2,076 1,110 53 9,388 4,589 49 3,995 1,598 40
1983 14,958 7,122 48 1,922 1,016 53 9,137 4,404 48 3,760 1,507 40
1984 15,979 7,175 45 1,984 975 49 9,591 4,314 45 3,898 1,508 39
1985 15,610 6,611 42 1,815 882 49 9,711 4,072 42 3,845 1,447 38
1986 16,401 7,070 43 1,819 871 48 10,215 4,336 42 3,847 1,430 37
1987 16,776 6,996 42 1,774 813 46 10,035 4,055 40 3,894 1,391 36
1988 17,393 7,261 42 1,847 832 45 9,834 3,828 39 3,950 1,369 35
1989 16,606 6,701 40 1,632 758 46 9,767 3,929 40 4,000 1,459 36
1990 16,223 6,644 41 1,577 731 46 9,511 3,746 39 3,984 1,433 36
1991 15,285 6,182 40 1,460 667 46 8,615 3,290 38 3,476 1,255 36
1992 14,307 5,501 38 1,362 619 45 8,161 2,910 36 3,408 1,257 37
1993 14,795 5,368 36 1,404 609 43 8,189 2,910 36 3,398 1,279 38
1994 15,078 5,188 34 1,303 565 43 8,576 2,713 32 3,372 1,168 35
1995 15,469 5,436 35 1,403 600 43 8,795 2,830 32 3,408 1,204 35
1996 15,519 5,276 34 1,335 588 44 8,923 2,875 32 3,380 1,241 37
1997 16,008 5,127 32 1,385 541 39 8,635 2,710 31 3,276 1,110 34
1998 16,180 5,228 32 1,402 568 40 8,520 2,595 30 3,216 1,127 35
1999 16,721 5,321 32 1,316 534 41 8,462 2,573 30 3,033 1,126 37
2000 16,205 5,248 32 1,203 486 40 8,705 2,701 31 2,962 1,045 35
2001 16,646 5,356 32 1,297 513 40 9,186 2,885 31 3,107 1,067 34
2002 17,262 5,562 32 1,279 500 39 9,341 2,942 31 3,123 1,095 35
2003 16,795 5,232 31 1,141 453 40 9,892 3,101 31 3,180 1,117 35
2004 16,943 5,157 30 1,148 436 38 9,885 2,985 30 3,122 1,113 36
2005 16,693 5,225 31 1,121 434 39 10,599 3,218 30 3,360 1,139 34
2006 16,350 5,124 31 1,145 460 40 10,831 3,406 31 3,242 1,200 37
2007 16,098 5,182 32 1,142 473 41 10,412 3,414 33 3,189 1,129 35
2008 14,652 4,740 32 1,113 460 41 9,459 3,166 33 2,970 1,093 37
2009 13,472 4,405 33 1,052 403 38 8,331 2,794 34 2,763 1,001 36
2010 12,569 3,852 31 1,053 410 39 8,321 2,672 32 2,926 1,001 34
2011 12,498 3,873 31 1,083 436 40 8,229 2,628 32 3,100 1,116 36
2012 12,920 4,072 32 1,190 445 37 8,549 2,654 31 3,323 1,191 36
2013 12,405 3,830 31 1,199 463 39 8,523 2,712 32 3,305 1,137 34
2014 11,864 3,659 31 1,033 372 36 8,906 2,721 31 3,633 1,238 34
2015 12,322 3,385 27 1,137 393 35 9,388 2,729 29 3,871 1,318 34
2016 12,871 3,467 27 1,186 382 32 10,788 3,191 30 4,576 1,600 35
2017 12,358 3,378 27 1,086 354 33 10,738 3,098 29 4,464 1,500 34

Safety belt use

According to a national daytime observational survey of motorists in 2017, safety belt use among front seat occupants was 89 percent in rural areas and 90 percent in urban areas. Li, R. and Pickrell, T.M. 2018. Seat belt use in 2017 — overall results. Report No. DOT HS-812-465. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Unrestrained vehicle occupants are more likely than restrained occupants to be fatally injured in a crash, so belt use is much lower among fatally injured occupants. In 2017, 47 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants 13 and older in rural areas and 49 percent in urban areas were belted.

Safety belt use among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants 13 and older by land use, 2008-2017
Rural Urban
Belt usedUnbelted Unknown Belt usedUnbelted Unknown
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
2008 6,271 41 8,287 54 899 6 4,007 43 4,334 47 895 10
2009 6,059 42 7,534 52 819 6 3,727 45 3,735 45 847 10
2010 5,701 43 6,709 51 801 6 3,825 46 3,598 43 882 11
2011 5,510 43 6,527 51 770 6 3,567 45 3,474 44 824 10
2012 5,643 43 6,669 51 786 6 3,749 46 3,529 43 866 11
2013 5,714 45 6,184 49 846 7 3,778 47 3,273 41 911 11
2014 5,565 46 5,871 48 729 6 4,031 48 3,382 41 932 11
2015 5,929 47 5,987 47 813 6 4,205 48 3,537 40 1,024 12
2016 6,183 47 6,232 47 825 6 4,740 48 4,063 41 1,130 11
2017 5,883 47 5,756 46 858 7 4,926 49 3,989 40 1,178 12

References